Have a Heart for Kids Day rally, 2015

Towards improving oral health equity in Washington

Adam 02/22/17
Deputy director Jon Gould with Swinomish Indian Tribal Community chairman and president of the National Congress of American Indians, Brian Cladoosby, at the bill signing ceremony for Senate Bill 5079.
PHOTO: Children's Alliance deputy director Jon Gould stands with Brian Cladoosby, Swinomish Indian Tribal Community chairman and president of the National Congress of American Indians, at the state capitol today. Advocates were present to witness the signing of Senate Bill 5079, which recognizes the right of Tribal governments to hire dental therapists.
 

Today was a good day for kids and health equity in Washington: Governor Jay Inslee signed Senate Bill 5079, which recognizes the sovereign right of Tribal governments to serve the health care needs of their people—and creates a broad path toward better access to oral health care on Indian lands throughout the state.

The new law makes it possible for oral health care providers working in Tribal clinics to expand their teams to include dental therapists. It also means these clinics will be eligible for funding from federal Indian Health Services and Medicaid, via Apple Health and Apple Health for Kids, for services provided by dental therapists.

A year ago, we stood by proudly while a Dental Health Aide Therapist trained in Alaska went to work for the oral health of kids and families at the Swinomish Tribal Clinic. We’re grateful for the leadership of the Swinomish Tribe and look forward to the improvements in access to care this new law will enable. Children in Native communities in Washington suffer from the poorest access to dental care, and therefore experience some of the worst decay.

Tribes in our state have a history of paving the way for smart policy, and this is no exception. Lawmakers are recognizing that dental therapy can address the severe lack of access to oral health care. Dental therapists will succeed in Indian Country, and we look forward to working with the legislature to make this common-sense solution work for all Washington kids and families who cannot get the oral health care they need.